While tens of thousands of activists from the Defense of Pakistan Council [DPC] at a huge rally were chanting slogans “Revenge from India for Dhaka fall” and “Down with Indian friendship,” very close to Indian border with historical metropolis Lahore the other day, Pakistani officials in Islamabad warmly received a seven-member delegation from the Indian held Kashmir on a week-long visit.
The DPC is an umbrella coalition of more than 40 Pakistani quasi-political religious parties that advocates closing NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and rejects the Pakistani government decision to grant India most-favored nation status.
The Kashmiri delegation led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq comprises the leaders from the faction of All Parties Hurriyet Conference [APHC], dubbed as pro-India because they favor negotiating also the third option of ‘independence’ for solving the Kashmir dispute; all except for the two identified by U.N. resolutions of 1948 allowing Kashmiris to choose between annexation to either Pakistan or India through a referendum under U.N. aegis. Besides, they are the only ones who have been allowed access to Delhi’s official quarters for dialogues and have been receiving concessions from Delhi over the last few years including the freedom of moving inside and out of Kashmir which had been denied to the other faction led by veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Gilani.
Gilani, 83, has spent most of the last forty years under detention, either house arrest or jail, and has still been under house arrest for past year. He was among those Kashmiri leaders who have been invited by Pakistan but New Delhi denied him travel permission. An important leader of the visiting faction of APHC, Shabbir Shah was also denied to travel to Pakistan for this visit.
Upon their arrival, the APHC leaders demanded Islamabad to allow free travel to Kashmiri living on both sides of military control line between the Indian and Pakistani- controlled parts of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. They also termed the present limited travel and trade opening as “insufficient” for restoring people to people contact and normalization of relations between the two countries. These items have been on the list of Indian demands from Pakistan for a long time which, Pakistani critics say, are aimed at raising the LoC to the status of international border and a crafty move to push Kashmir dispute into oblivion by promoting relations of trade, culture and people to people contact. Many independent observers mock this paradigm and term it as a sub-continent version of Oslo accord.
The purpose of Kashmiri delegation’s visit is to meet Pakistani officials and opinion leaders for being taken into confidence about the next round of talks between Islamabad and Delhi for resolving the long- standing Kashmir dispute. The visit came just after the two countries made operational the new visa regime for travelers from both sides last week in Delhi, replacing the 38-year old previous one of 1974 that was termed as too 'harsh', especially for those who wanted frequent travel to meet extended families living in both the countries. Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik specially traveled to New Delhi for operationalizing the visa regime ahead of this month’s tour of Pakistani cricket team to India to facilitate the enthusiastic cricket fans at home.
Despite that the new regime boasts of allowing ‘many concessions’ to travelers but in reality it was not much pleasing for those having families in two countries since it has not much for them over what they already have.
The two-day visit of Rehman Malik was also full of controversies as he lived up to his reputation of speaking 'unwanted at inopportune time', while he also found an opportunity to celebrate his birthday at the historic Taj Mahal, a universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage, which could not remain out of media’s view despite that he tried to keep it a private affair.
The prevailing scenario puts it all as a tug-of-war between Pakistani establishment and the PPP-led coalition government to take driving seat of country’s foreign policy. For the past many decades, the foreign policy has been under overwhelming influence of Pakistan's strong army that dared to venture hosts of coup d'état in the past but the sitting political government is trying hard to wrestle this trophy away in a bid to win the coming elections.
It is an open secret that the government is pushed to the wall after showing extremely poor political performance for the last five years, dotted with charges of unprecedented corruption, disobeying judiciary, supporting U.S.-dictated policies on economics and war on terror which multiplied terrorism inside the country and hike in prices of essential commodities, earning curses from the common man. Facing a menacing challenge of re-elections in polls that are about a few months ahead, the PPP and ruling allies are practically empty handed at the home front to face the voters in polls and desperately trying to get hold of anything at the international arena to get a pat on the back which could be capitalized on at the internal front to win elections.
Normalization with India and suppressing the hardliners would enable PPP-led coalition win support of liberal quarters in the country which is considered an important tool to mustering western backing for any government in Pakistan. Time would judge the fate of domestic politics courtesy diplomacy especially in a country with vibrant media and active judiciary.
(Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through email: email@example.com and Twitter: @mansoorjafar)